After meeting at university and bonding over a shared love of The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, Dominic VonTrapp and Michael Hayes formed the first incarnation of Sweet Sweet Lies. The duo, who had formed a strong songwriting partnership while studying music, initially found management and financial backing. But it was swiftly taken away again. Eventually new label Something Nothing picked them up.
There have been several new additions to the line-up, though, since Sweet Sweet Lies made their first stab at turning their passion into a career. They have been joined by Ken Box (piano), Deano Harrington (bass), Dan Brown (drums) and Kris Jones (trumpet), with each new member adding subtle layers to the band’s textured sound. They are certainly a band that sounds comfortable in their own skin. In fact, everything about Sweet Sweet Lies debut fits together rather nicely, with their name capturing the contrast between their sweet melodies and cutting lyrics.
The album’s title also appears fittingly apt after the opening two songs kick the album off with the frenzied pace of the hare. Capital Of Iceland – the band’s first official single – gets the album off to a frantic opening. VonTrapp’s rough-and-ready vocals complement the band’s mocking lyrics about a girl who “knows the capital of Iceland” – let’s call it Reykjavik, shall we? It’s followed by one of the band’s most recognisable songs, the ferocious Overrated Girlfriend. It possesses a shuffling beat and triumphant trumpet that counters VonTrapp’s sneering vocals which sound positively bitter as he sings: “She turns me on, then kicks me out / spits and swears and lies and shouts / but I love my overrated girlfriend.”
The album undergoes a drastic change in pace at the midway point, which sees the sextet embrace their sentimental side. Another album standout, No-one Will Love You (Like I Do), allows the band to sit back and let the instruments do the talking for the first time, rather than the overbearing vocals. As a result, it surpasses everything else on the album, with its blissful beauty and affecting chorus. The song starts a series of swirling, heart-wrenching and high-drama waltzes, songs that owe a great deal to the dark melancholy of Scott Walker and the whispery delivery of Elliot Smith.
Unfortunately, Sweet Sweet Lies get so bogged down in the slowly drawn out, glossy acoustics, that it all begins to wear thin. Lizbet Blue, which features an underlying piano to accompany the picked acoustic guitar, is painfully unhurried. Valentine also plods along with a cloying acoustic guitar, before it’s completely outstripped by the last minute-and-a-half of the song, which sees the band burst into life with ecstatic trumpets befitting Beirut.
The Day I Change shuffles along unremarkably until it’s revived by a stirring chorus, as VonTrapp croons: “But when I get better / no-one will call me strange.” The album closes with a return to the upbeat pomp that opened the album. Macy twists and turns with an infectious bassline and effervescent guitars, while the album closes with rousing closer Breathless, which evokes the intensity of Nick Cave.
The Hare, The Hound & The Tortoise is, at times, a remarkable album. It lures you in with warm, charming melodies, before grabbing you by the throat with direct and brutally honest lyrics. The end product – while always intriguing – does not always satisfy, though. The band has been compared in some circles to Mumford & Sons. While there is little on this album to really make such a comparison, the Brighton-based band could do with balancing the rousing tunes with their more heartfelt ones more effectively, as Mumford managed on their debut. That said, The Hare, The Hound & The Tortoise is a promising debut album, one which spells a bright future for a quite unique band.